Two years later, a quieter commemoration
Families, and a nation, gather around ground zero to remember Sept. 11, and look ahead.
A bagpipe whines Amazing Grace in the morning sun at the edge of the now silent site of the former World Trade Center. At precisely 8:47 a.m., a single bell tolls. Then silence marks the moment the first plane cleaved one tower two years ago.
Thousands of families of victims crowded silently together to bear witness, yet again. Grasping photos, children, and the hands of loved ones, they came to hear the now familiar litany of 2,792 names: a litany of love and grief this year read by the children of those lost. While this is only the second anniversary, the ritual is already familiar, but no less painful for the survivors.
Memorials have always helped individuals and nations grieve. Yet this was a tragedy that Jean-Michel Rabaté says exceeded all the "usual categories." "In any culture ... there's the need to forget and the wish not to forget," says Mr. Rabaté, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania. "There's a double movement in forgetting/remembering. We want to remember differently, not in a traumatic way. And commemoration serves that purpose."
The turbulent wind that whipped dust like angry dervishes last year has been replaced on this day by a gentle breeze off the Hudson River. The crowd of surviving family members is smaller. Fewer people hold smiling photos of victims. The raw edge of emotion that cut so sharply through the somberness last year has been replaced by a quieter kind of coping. But for many here, the pain is no less intense.
"It seems like it was yesterday," says Diana Mena, whose daughter, Diarelia, worked on the 104th floor. "These past two years have been very hard for us. She is never out of our minds."
Mrs. Mena came last year as well, but reluctantly. One of her daughters said it would help bring closure. Mena smiles at the memory and looks down at a photo of Diarelia, taken two months before the attack, on her wedding day. "There is no such thing as closure," says Mena. "Not for a mother. But when I'm here, I feel her close to me."
Marylou and Frank Walsh and their son Tom lean against a concrete barrier. They're all wearing blue polo shirts pinned with a white ribbon, waiting to hear their son's name read. Last year, they couldn't bear to be near here. They went to the Canadian Rockies instead, "where there were no newspapers," says Mrs. Walsh. But today, they felt they should come - had to come. Even so, Walsh doesn't believe that memorials like this will help her overcome the loss. "They tell you" it will help, she says, looking straight ahead. "But unless it happens to you, you just can't know. It's just a whole different story."
Despite the still-palpable pain for many, there's a sense of looking forward in this year's ceremony. That's why, Mayor Michael Bloomberg says, the children were chosen to read the names. "So many names, there's barely room on the walls of the heart," says the mayor, quoting poet Billy Collins.
The children's voices, thin on the wind despite a microphone, ring out the names of their fathers, mothers, and cousins with a sense of formality and special humanity. Each, too, conveys a special message, their own familial sonnet. "I love you." "We miss you." Or simply, "My father."